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The World of Spices with Ann Wilder

In this column, Ann Wilder gets right to the flavor of the topic, so . . . . . be sure to take exacting notes! With no further adieu, we turn the mike to Ann. You're on Ann . . . . .

Thanks Charlie,

Sweet Spices For Savory Dishes

Ann Wilder Allspice, a useful but much neglected spice, could be of particular interest to us in the barbecue industry. It's flavor and aroma marries well with meat and with other spices, The sweet peppery flavor [See Tellicherry Peppercorns in The Store] of allspice combines particularly well with chili peppers and creates a wonderful sweet, hot flavor. Allspice is the native of the New World and was unknown elsewhere unfit the Spanish introduced it to Europe in the 16th Century. It is now used in cuisines the world over. It was not an original ingredient of curry, but it is often found in curry recipes today, and it is used extensively in Mid-Eastern spice mixtures such as Raz el Hanout.
[See Chili Seasonings in The Barbecue Store]

Although we are most familiar with allspice as an ingredient for sweet dishes, it is a useful addition to savory foods. In the Mid-East, it is almost always used in savory dishes. In northern and eastern Europe, it is an essential ingredient in pickling and preserving meat. Allspice is the secret ingredient in Jerk seasoning. [See Jerk Seasoning in The Barbecue Store] It tempers the Scotch bonnet chilies and brings the sweet and hot flavors into balance. It is used throughout the Mediterranean to sweeten bitter vegetables and balance the acidity of tomato sauces. In the Caribbean, allspice berries are thrown in the fire for a richer smoked flavor. The Benedictine monks flavored their famous Chartreuse liqueur with allspice. Allspice and cloves perform the same function in dishes; therefore, for a mild clove flavor, substitute allspice for cloves.

It is one of the ironies of history that in an age of exploration for spices and gold, Columbus sailed past one of the richest spice treasures in the western hemisphere. Today, as when Columbus sailed through the Caribbean islands, allspice trees grow in dark shiny forests. From late April into October, the trees are covered with berries in various stages of ripeness. It was apparently at this stage, the Spanish finally discovered them. [See Spices in The Barbecue Store]

They must have believed them to be peppers, and they do look like large peppercorns. [See Tellicherry Peppercorns in The Store] They named them spice pimento. The botanist named the tree Pimenta officinalist. In Jamaica, the name pimento still clings to it. It should not be confused with pimiento, the Spanish name for chilies and sweet peppers.

Allspice played an important part during the days of the pirates. They used allspice to preserve meat, mostly pork. Meat cured, smoked, and seasoned with allspice, was called Bucan, from the French 'very boucaner,' for cured or barbecued. The pirates who were dependent on this meat were called Buccaneers . . . which eventually evolved into the familiar word buccaneers.

Whole allspice is the dried unripened, but mature berries from an evergreen tree. The berries are dark reddish or purplish brown. The aroma is very fragrant, similar to clove, and the pungent aromatic flavor suggests a blend of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and pepper, hence its name allspice. The best berries are grown in Jamaica, which produces most of the world's supply.

Allspice trees have been introduced into the tropical regions around the world, but have failed to flourish. Mexico does have a commercial allspice industry, as does Indonesia. Mexican allspice is larger than Jamaican, but much less flavorful Jamaican allspice contains up to 4.5% volatile oil. Allspice from Mexico and Indonesia have only half as much essential oil. Because the oil content in Jamaican allspice is so high, the flavor is rounder, warmer, more spice, fuller bodied, slightly pungent and peppery with a fruity cinnamon clove-like flavor, and has an astringent after-taste. In short, a more complex flavor.

Use whole spices whenever possible and grind them fresh. As soon as allspice is ground, it begins to lose flavor and aroma. About half the flavor will have dissipated within three months. A pepper mill works well for small amounts and small amounts is what one usually needs. Allspice should be used carefully. It is very potent. An 1/8th of a teaspoon of ground allspice is sufficient to flavor I qt. of soup, stock, or marinade. In sausage seasoning and other commercial spice mixtures, 1/3 of an ounce will season 25 to 50 lbs. of meat. If larger amounts are needed, buy from the best spice house with the freshest possible ground allspice.

Copyright (c) 2007, by:
Ann D. Wilder, President
VANN Spices, Ltd.

More of Ann's Flavorful Topics!

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Bad Weather? Too hot or cold? Know what your bbq pit is doing with these Wireless Thermometers
Bad Weather?  Too hot or cold? Know what your bbq pit is doing with these Wireless Thermometers

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Get all of Smoky Hale's wisdom and become the best cook around. Learn to do it right!

Get all of Smoky Hale's wisdom and become the best cook around. Learn to do it right!

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